Why Differing Resurrection Stories?
Why don’t the Resurrection stories agree in the Gospels?
This is a very common question. Why are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s facts about Easter Sunday morning at the Garden Tomb so different? For instance:
In Matthew, one angel in white appears to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Mt 28).
In Mark, one “young man” in white “amazed” the two Marys and Simone (Mk 16).
In Luke, two men in “dazzling garments” appeared to the two Marys and Joanna (Lk 24).
In John, two angels in white appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20).
What now? Which one is correct?
Well…all of them…in one way or another.
The differences in the accounts are not questions of “if” but of “how” or “which”.
If we view the story as a philosopher might, then we’d say, “there are contradictions, so it ALL must be false.”
When studying the even from a historical or theological, perspective, however, we notice that all of the main points are the same, and that the discrepancies are in the smaller, “secondary” details.
The facts don’t change:
- Jesus’ body is placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea
- The tomb is visited by a small group of women on Sunday morning
- Jesus’ body is gone
- They see a vision of angel(s) saying that Jesus is Risen
The smaller details “not matching up”, should not make us worried that the story is untrue, those differences should make us even more confident that the Resurrection is fact, not fiction. If all four accounts were the exact same, we’d be asking ourselves, “How do we know that four people believed this, and it wasn’t just one person who was plagiarized three times?”
Still not making sense? Still wondering why the different “secondary details”?
Okay, stick with me here…
So, there’s a three-car collision in the middle of an intersection.
The police arrive on the scene, and begin taking statements from four witnesses.
All of the witnesses saw the same accident, but their reports to the officers were very different.
Well, there could be a lot of factors as to why the four communicate the “same facts” in such different ways…
- Maybe, one or two saw the beginning, and a couple others turned to catch the middle or end of it.
- Maybe one or two pay great attention to detail and are sure to communicate the exact details to the officer, while the others don’t think the details “make of the car, etc.” are as important as “who is at fault”.
- Maybe, one of the witnesses is “shaken” from seeing the accident and is really emotional when he gives the statement, but another is “great under pressure”.
- Maybe a one of the witnesses is an off-duty police officer who would offer facts more relevant to a police report, maybe one is a lawyer who gives facts from a legal point-of-view, maybe one is a doctor who explains facts based on the medical condition of the drivers, maybe one is a mechanic and can offer additional information based on the damage.
- Maybe one of the witnesses remembers something that they saw, a little later on in the day, after they had left the scene…and relate important facts to the officer later on.
Did the accident happen? Yes.
Are the results of the accident the same? Yes.
The same results even if the reports differ? Yes.
No matter what report you read, will the drivers, damage or location change? No.
Will others (who weren’t witnesses) still form their own judgment? Yes.
There are more Resurrection appearances in the Gospels, as well. There are still others which are not mentioned or recorded, (this fact is implied in the words of St. Luke in Acts 1:3).
So we’ve seen that different gospel accounts don’t mean that the facts are fiction, they simply mean that there is more than one way to tell the same story. Again, if each of the four were exactly the same…THEN we should be worried.
I hope this makes sense.
Focus on the fact that Christ rose from the dead.
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